The Minnesota Twins open a five-game road series against the Cleveland Guardians on Friday night — and plenty will be at stake.
The Twins (72-70) are four games behind the first-place Guardians (76-66) in the American League Central with 20 games left for both teams. The Chicago White Sox (74-70) are three games behind Cleveland with 18 games remaining.
The most realistic path to the playoffs for all three teams is winning the division.
“We’ve got to go out there to Cleveland and take care of business,” Minnesota shortstop Carlos Correa said after the Twins completed a three-game sweep of the visiting Kansas City Royals with a 3-2 win Thursday. “We’ve got five games, our most important series of the year, so we’ve got to go out there and play good baseball.”
The Twins appeared to avoid a scare involving one of their best players, Luis Arraez, who leads the American League with a .320 batting average.
He departed during a 4-0 win against the Royals on Wednesday night because of hamstring tightness and had an MRI after the game, but the results were encouraging.
Arraez was not in the starting lineup on Thursday, but he pinch-hit in the seventh inning and flied out to center field.
Correa and Gio Urshela have helped carry the Minnesota offense of late. In the past eight games, Urshela is 13-for-28 (.464) and Correa is 15-for-32 (.469).
The Twins were just 1 1/2 games behind the Guardians at the start of this month, but they went 2-8 through the first 10 games of September, getting swept in a three-game series by visiting Cleveland last weekend.
The Guardians, meanwhile, distanced themselves from the Twins and White Sox by winning eight of nine from Sept. 5 through Wednesday.
Cleveland had won six in a row before giving up five home runs in the first five innings against the White Sox on Thursday and losing the makeup game 8-2.
One of the bright spots from the loss was rookie center fielder Will Benson, who collected his first extra-base hit in his 20th major league game — a double that drove in the Guardians’ first run. Benson finished the game 2-for-4.
“That’s about the best we’ve seen him swing,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.
Benson, who was drafted 14th overall by Cleveland in the 2016 draft, is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and has displayed his power before, belting four home runs in one game with Class-A Lake County early in the 2019 season.
Triston McKenzie is scheduled to start for the Guardians in the series opener. McKenzie (10-11, 3.05 ERA) scattered six hits over seven shutout innings against the Twins in his last start, a 6-4 win on Saturday.
That’s his only win in four starts against the Twins this season, however. In his career, he is 2-5 with a 5.93 ERA in eight starts against Minnesota.
Urshela and Correa also have hit well against McKenzie in their careers. Urshela is 6-for-12 with two home runs, two doubles and a triple. Correa also has homered twice in 11 career at-bats against McKenzie.
The Twins are expected to activate right-hander Bailey Ober (1-2, 4.01 ERA) off the injured list to start on Friday. He has been rehabilitating a groin injury that has sidelined him since June.
Ober has made just seven starts this season, none against the Guardians. As a rookie last season, he was 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA in two starts against Cleveland.
–Field Level Media